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Kupreskic And Others Trial

Tribunal Update 128: Last Week in The Hague (31 May - 5 June, 1999)

Professor Wagner who is an expert on the faculty of human perception and memory, particularly in the area of facial perception has appeared as a witness in more than 200 trials, including that of Dusko Tadic.

The Prosecution bases much of its case against Vlatko Kupreskic on the testimony of the protected witness "Q", who identified the defendant from among Croat soldiers who were shooting at a group of Muslim inhabitants from Ahmici on the 6 April 1993. One person was killed and two were wounded. Kupreskic's counsel asked Professor Wagner several questions on the reliability of recognition by an elderly witness of a person in a group from a distance of about 60 metres in dramatic circumstances.

Professor Wagner began his testimony by stating it was a case of recognising somebody who is already known to the witness. If the picture was clear at the material time, he said, it was normally only important to remember the name of that person.

The question of perception is, however, far more complex. The most important factor in this case, according to professor Wagner, is the distance of 60 metres, from which the witness allegedly recognised the defendant. Various persons can be recognised even from a distance of 200 metres, but when shapes are similar, the reliable distance comes down to only 15 metres. At 60 metres, in ideal conditions, the accuracy of perception is about 50 per cent. "I am not saying you cannot recognise a person, but it is not highly reliable in [the] legal sense," Professor Wagner said.

The expert witness further pointed out that it was difficult to answer precisely how emotions raised in dramatic circumstances influence perception. The fact that "Q" looked only for a moment, Wagner said, does not mean that "Q" did not see correctly. As far as "Q's" advanced age is concerned, the Professor noted that usually only problems of short-sightedness arise with age, which meant that it should not have been a problem to recognise things from a distance. The witness saw a group of four people, which, according to Wagner, also did not present a problem.

When asked about the fact that other fleeing persons did not recognise Kupreskic or anybody else, Wagner said that it is not surprising, though it was still possible that one of them recognised someone. The same applies to the fact that the witness did not remember any clothing: "We first perceive weapon and the face, then perhaps clothes", said Wagner.

According to Professor Wagner, the issue of later recognition is far more complex. The witness "Q" recalled how he had "recognised" Vlatko Kupreskic only later. "If you did not see something completely clearly, your memory can be influenced later on...and you can acutely be sure that you saw something, though you really did not. A 60-metre distance does not enable you to get a clear image. The possibility of correct perception here is smaller than 50 per cent. I am not telling what happened, but what may have happened. It is up to the court to decide," the expert concluded.

The trial of the Bosnian Croat leaders, Dario Kordic and Mario Cerkez, indicted for alleged crimes against the Muslim inhabitants of Central Bosnia also continued last week, though it did so once again from behind closed doors in order to protect the identity of Prosecution witnesses who asked for full protection.

The trial of Kordic and Cerkez will continue next week, parallel to the final stage in the trial of another Bosnian Croat leader, General Tihomir Blaskic.

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